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Curious or Ignorant: The choice we have

15 Feb

I have been and remain a big believer in curiosity. A curious mind prepares us to be open to new ideas, assimilate and synthesize those ideas with our own thinking and operations, and lays the foundation for those serendipitous moments that unexpectedly reveal themselves.

So, it has been delightfully reaffirming to read Ian Leslie’s Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. While I’m still a couple of chapters from completion, Leslie’s book is a fine read and a well-reasoned argument for making curiosity the key to unlocking our world of information abundance.

curious: the desire to know and why your future depends on it

Ian Leslie’s book is not only a good read, it has a fantastic cover!

There is one section, however, that keeps playing over in my head: He argues that the (over-) abundance of information is making us less curious. Put another way, easy answers make us less curious, and less able to do the necessary sense-making.

[Curiosity] is also about discrimination; it involves choices about which knowledge we want to explore. The Web can give us answers before we’ve even had time to think about the question. It can also make it too easy for us to ignore our own ignorance.

Google… is more like a railway booking office – a place to visit when you know your destination. A truly curious person know that she doesn’t always know what she wants to know about… Google never says, “I don’t know.” (pp. 72-5)

The idea that it is all the easier for us to ignore our own ignorance given the ease of answers alarms me. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. But taken with what we already know about the dangers of confirmation bubbles, I now think that Leslie is quite right.

True intellectual curiosity may be harder than ever to maintain. As he suggests, curiosity is stoked by unanswered (perhaps even unanswerable) questions. It’s been my experience that it is the constant sense-making, PKM practices and networking with other curious, smart people that stokes my own curiosity.

The good news: These are learned behaviors! So, who is teaching them? I’ll follow up soon with some ideas about this means for workplace learning in a future post. This is still fresh in my mind’s gears, so I welcome your thoughts.

Lead with Training? Look beyond the recipe

15 May

I’ve seen it time and time again. An organization has a new technology, often joined with a new process and vision for processing, customer service, data alignment, sales, etc. The knock comes on L & D’s door, and we are thrilled to be able to get in on a new initiative without the baggage of poor performance leading the request.

But just as we should pause and assess if training is the part of the solution to substandard performance or a new change initiative, we need to also pause to think about the appropriate timing and type of training that will advance the strategy initiative. While it might seem counter-intuitive to those of us in the instructional design and training game, we need to think about training as an essential element in the organizational kitchen remodel — a part of a well-designed program, but not the driver.

OK, I’m not entirely sure a kitchen is the best analogy, but let that marinate with me for a moment. A kitchen needs a workflow plan, a place to store fresh and nonperishable items, ample space to store tools and cooking utensils, and a set of good cook books (explicit knowledge), at least until the cook moves through competence and proficiency to become an expert intuitive gastro-artist (implicit knowledge).

So, training can carry the novice cook along the path to competence, and even proficiency. However, if the goal is to build expertise, training can’t carry the load the full distance. Similarly, the training program, no matter how well designed and implemented, can’t deliver the tools, materials and setup necessary to get the anticipated results.

Cathy Moore has done some excellent work on how to evaluate the need for training to address performance issues. But what I’m suggesting here is to take that to another elevation: Even when training is part of the issue, are the conditions for applicable success present? Seen this way, each training design should be a mini (or full-blown) change management program. Per standard practice of change management, skills are an essential ingredient. But so too are organizational support, vision and incentives to follow through.

complex change matrix

Complex Change Management Matrix

So, if you are already in the discussion that Moore (and I) suggests, take it to the next logical step: How does training fit into the change the organization wishes to see?

We don’t spend the money to build a beautiful kitchen without the hope that we’ll become better cooks. But design and appliances don’t get us there. Neither will skills alone without the proper tools and support for experimentation, failure and improvement.

Trust or Control? It’s one or the other.

14 Oct

When I speak to people about the value of participating in professional learning networks (PLN), work out loud (WOL) practices, and the promise of sharing freely in order to reap the benefits of the Learning Age, I hear the same reservations time and again. The obstacles most often come down to trust.

Do I trust my organization and bosses to value my time and my contributions? Do I trust my peers, known and yet unknown, to accept my perspective and ideas without judgment to hostility? Do I trust my friends and family not to mock me for putting myself out there? (Early in my social sharing participation activities, I did get some “Who do you think you are, Mr. Fancy-pants?!” kind of responses. Then I realized that vulnerability is the part of the process of learning… a topic for another day.)

Most of all, at formal events and in conversations with individuals alike, I hear what amounts to lack of trust in one’s self. Do I trust myself to share the right things, and to be able to sort and make sense of what I find out there?

I attended an event at my local ATD Cascadia chapter last week in which Nan Russell presented on “The Titleless Leader.” What stuck with me most in a great presentation was when she asked the participants, “What’s the opposite of trust?” The answer? “Control.”

This is so important. We have to give up the idea that we can control our daily forays into learning, sharing, and growing. Nor should we want to hold onto control. In order to make the most of explorations, we should prepare to encounter the unknown. It is a matter of trust that good things will happen when we give up control, open to what comes.

Yogi’s Fork: Take it

8 Oct

Yogi Berra, the great baseball player, admired public figure and philosopher of the common man, recently passed away. Famous for his many aphorisms, there is one in particular that applies well to how individuals and organizations operate in the digital age (what I call The Learning Age): “When you get to the fork in the road, take it.”

While this could be interpreted a number of ways I suppose, I’ve always taken it to mean that action is better than inaction. Making a decision can be as important as making the right decision, at least in most circumstances. That is, if we do the work of reflection, documentation, and in so doing allow it to inform what we do at similar forks in the future, that is the most important action.

I wrote about this some time ago, but it is worth revisiting.

While it’s of course ideal to make evidence-based, informed decisions when possible, we live in a world of novelty and experimentation. We are constantly faced with decision points that are unlike those we have encountered previously. The worst thing we can do is to be paralyzed by indecision. Make a choice, note how and why you made that choice so that you can create your own evidence for next time. Then, do your best to make the decision work as best as possible. That way, once we are past the fork, we have a trail of actions and outcomes that we can reflect on the next time we face a similar divergence on our path (and there will be many!).

Peter Senge, in The Fifth Discipline and elsewhere, talks about a double loop of learning, and if we want to dress up our Yogi’ism we can overlay Senge’s principle to it. Take the fork, make the choice, but use the data you collected from previous choices to consider the assumptions and underlying reasoning that steer things left or right, and build your next decision on the knowledge (living in the people, the outcomes and the technology at hand) to create a constant updated loop of what you know and you apply it.

Individuals and organizations need to thrive in a constantly-changing set of circumstances. If we wait for the perfect choice to reveal itself before acting, we are doomed to the dustbin. Act based on the information at hand, and learn from the outcome(s) for the next fork.

There are no “wrong” choices. Mistakes are fine, just remember what Yogi said: Losing only happens because “We made too many wrong mistakes.”

Rest in peace, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra.

A Manifesto (with Poor Graphic Design)

26 Aug

If you have been following my blog over the last couple of years (thank you!), you may have noticed some changes to the banner and template recently. Other than the aesthetics, which I like better, I wanted to have a banner image in my own hand that represents what I’m working on in this space, and in my professional life.

That said, I know that the graphics are a bit opaque. Allow me to explain.

For fully realized learners* to function across an organization and find personal satisfaction through professional development, three foundational elements must stand firm:

3 pillarsAcculturation & Alignment: Individuals must feel that their efforts are adding value to the organization, and that those efforts are nurtured in turn by coworkers, organizational leaders and professional peers. Tasks have meaning, and individuals should feel a part of something larger within a set of cultural cues that enable growth and autonomy.

Competency & Assessment: Workers need a measure of their own competence and a way of assessing and measuring the growth of new competencies over time. As we move to an increasingly automated workplace and rote tasks are replaced by automation, workers’ sense of worth (competency) must grow, adapt and change over time, in internally and externally measurable ways. Stagnation is the enemy not only of the human spirit but of organizational livelihood.

Skills and Knowledge: This is the core. Learners’ sense of self and their value to others starts here. “I know what I know!” and “I know what I can do!” are the essence of professional identity. The practice that needs to develop is how learners can share what they know, and do so in a manner that cuts across the other realms of competency and acculturation. Continue reading

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